children, “clean slates”

A favorite saying has been that “Children are clean slates, upon which adults leave their chalk-mark.” Although babies are most likely born with individual personalities, it’s also very likely that adults influence their development to a great degree. Our passions and prejudices are passed along directly, or through osmosis. We are human, so it’s impossible to guarantee perfection when raising children. Nonetheless, we should make a concerted effort to guard against leaving a legacy of negativism to future generations. Easier said than done.

Change is inevitable; life isn’t stagnant. But while we can’t stop change, we can  control its direction. Viewing life through a baby’s eyes, it would seem only natural that he or she would want a pleasant environment in which to grow and  flourish. It’s not far-fetched to think that adults would agree.

Unfortunately, life has had a head start, our world seems already “set in stone.” War is waging all around us. Battles are being fought on every front: rich vs. poor, liberals vs. conservatives, Wall Street vs. Main Street, blacks vs. whites, Muslims vs. Christians, U.S. citizens vs. illegal immigrants; big businesses vs. small businesses. On the front line fighting are the stockholders, politicians, consumers, lobbyists, NAACP, Ku Klux Klan, “skinheads,” religious fanatics, families, farmers, pharmaceuticals, health insurance companies.

The fallout from our self-inflicted war is its negative impact upon our society, particularly our children. Many fear they will be saddled with our trillion-dollar national debt; I fear they’re already saddled with a psyche of distrust and dislike for anyone and anything, alien to the world in which they’ve been raised.

Children are “killing” children, as in the case of Tyler Clementi’s suicide brought about because his college roommate and a friend posted pictures on YouTube, revealing that Clementi was gay. Obviously the instigators grew up with a certain mind-set, and felt certain their revelation would be well received by millions having the same mind-set. That way of thinking, “us against them,” has been generations in the making, passed along without thought of the consequences to the most vulnerable among us, our children.

When we become adults I wish we could remember how it was growing up as children. Rose, a black girl at the orphanage where my mom worked, was forever picked on because she was mentally slow, stuttered, and built like an Amazon. With nowhere to go when she graduated from high school, my mom brought Rose into our home for a couple of years, to share what little we had. Another orphan, Fuji, was teased because he was slightly built and had effeminate tendencies. And I can remember telling “white lies” in elementary school to cover up being poor, wanting desperately to be accepted by others. How did we children know that being black, disabled, gay and poor were qualities that set us apart, like lepers, like outcasts? Why did our perpetrators know they could victimize us, and not be punished by the adults? It’s no wonder we grow up doing what was done to us, or by us, as children. Can the cycle ever be broken? I hope so.

I’m still trying to “wrap my brain around” the Human Rights Campaign. While I can’t identify with gays in their perception of life, I know in my gut that they are human beings deserving of the same respect that I demand for myself. Knowing several gay men, I’m aware of their incredible talent for business, and commitment to doing their utmost in their positions, most of them in management. Perhaps because they feel they have to prove their worth above and beyond their straight peers, gays are sensitive to their surroundings and those who cohabit them. Granted, there are those who are jerks, just like there are straights who are jerks. I avoid both, not because they’re gay or straight, but because their personalities don’t coalesce with mine. Period.

Repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is not an easy undertaking, not because it CAN’T be done, but because of society’s pervasive mind-set. Get rid of the mind-set, and I don’t see a problem. As children, weren’t we told to “get along with others?” I don’t remember being told only to play with “straight” boys and girls.

One of my best childhood guy friends, Michael, was very fashion conscious, seemed like one of the girls during sleepovers, eagerly joined in learning new dance steps, and was as heartbroken as me when my boyfriend and I broke up. My brothers referred to Michael as a “mahu,” (Hawaiian for “gay”), but that didn’t deter me from having him as a close friend. My mom thought he was a great friend, my girlfriends liked him, and my other guy friends, sports jocks, liked him as well. In fact Michael wasn’t gay for he had a serious crush on a mutual friend, who felt badly that she couldn’t return his feelings.

I couldn’t imagine the world without the gay men I know, and about whom I care. They’re like me in all the ways that matter. They love, they feel, they bleed. Why wouldn’t I let them defend me by serving our country? Their sexual preference seems to be the only obstacle to military duty. Delete that, and it seems a “no-brainer.” But eliminating historical prejudices, especially ones based upon subjective interpretations of the Bible, seems an impossibility. My one voice can’t “move mountains,” but as Gandhi said “Everything you do in life will be insignificant, but it’s important you do it anyway, because no onelse will.”

For me, those discussed in Eve Conant’s Newsweek article “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,”  are the faces of the Human Rights Campaign, gays who want to serve and, perhaps, die for our country.

Joseph Rocha had always wanted to be in the military. He enlisted in the Navy on his 18th birthday, trained to become a handler working with explosive-sniffing dogs, and found himself part of a small, specialized unit in Bahrain. Banned by law from discussing his sexual orientation, he had a hard time explaining to his peers why he didn’t party with them, or even join their bawdy conversations. He became an outcast. Fellow sailors ridiculed him for being gay. At one point they locked him in a dog kennel. Another time they forced him to eat dog food. In 2007 he was discharged after signing a document admitting his homosexuality. But if “don’t ask, don’t tell” is repealed–as many expect will happen in the coming year–Rocha says he wants to serve again. “You never lose that sense of duty and service and love for country,” says the second-generation Mexican-American from Sacramento, Calif., who will graduate from the University of San Diego this spring. “It’s a unique and beautiful thing most of us feel we were robbed of and would take the first chance to have it back.” …

Lissa Young, 48,…A West Point grad from a military family–her father was a fighter pilot–Young had an exceptional 16-year military career before she was outed in 2002. At that time, she was a Chinook pilot and West Point instructor who had just been selected for promotion to lieutenant colonel. …

To fly commercial planes, Young needed new training, but her financial security–including her retirement benefits–disappeared the day she was discharged. She was in her 40s with $50,000 to her name and no job experience outside the military. … she was hired by Raytheon as a salesperson for air traffic-control systems in the Middle East. But she felt awkward in the corporate world. …She…made her way to Harvard.

Now Young is on the verge of getting her doctorate in education, still hoping to teach at West Point as a civilian if she can’t rejoin the military. As a cadet at West Point, she was the first female to serve as a deputy brigade commander, and she returned later becoming a full-fledged instructor. ‘I’m a product of West Point,’ she says ‘They molded me, I took an oath to dedicate my life to leading soldiers.’ …being in the Army and serving isn’t what I do, it’s who I am.’ She would love to fly again, and if allowed back in, wants to be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. …

Bleu Copas, 34, joined the Army after the attacks of September 11. ‘I thought it was the honorable thing to do,’ says the native of Johnson City, Tenn. But after almost four years in the service, the then-sergeant–and fluent Arabic speaker–was anonymously outed. …He accepted an honorable discharge. ‘My commander told me he didn’t want to do this, that I was one of his best leaders,’ …Despite what happened, he says he wants to return ‘for the same reason I signed up in the first place: to serve my country.’

The Army invested a lot of time and money in Copas before it dumped him. He spent 18 months in intensive Arabic training in Monterey, Calif., and had top-secret clearance for handling sensitive documents. These days he works a desk job at the Department of Veterans Affairs back home, helping soldiers transition to civilian life. He doesn’t feel comfortable in a suit and tie, and he’s forgetting his Arabic. ‘It’s very rusty now; I don’t have a lot of use for it in northeast Tennessee.’ He says he’s not bitter, but it’s clear he’d like a change. ‘I’ve been told I’m too forgiving; maybe that plays a role. But if there are new opportunities, I just want to take them.’

After 9/11 ousted gay vets felt hopeful they would be recalled to service. ‘These were high-performing people who knew the nation was in need and couldn’t imagine the military wouldn’t want them,’ says Bridget Wilson, a San Diego lawyer who has represented gay and lesbian soldiers for decades. Yet pilots, linguists, and trained gunners watched from the sidelines as the military loosened restrictions on high-school dropouts and former drug users to boost recruitment for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. ‘It really made us crazy when they waived convicted felons into service,’ Wilson recalls.” 

If my daughter were to go to war, I’d want her fighting alongside soldiers who are the best in their fields. But I don’t anticipate having to worry about my child going to combat, so I’ll leave it to the parents of children who might one day decide to enlist. Would it be better that they be caught in a hailstorm of fire with trained soldiers, gays and “straights?” Or all “straights,” some having been drug addicts or felons before joining? I’m not saying they can’t change, but what’s their proven track record? 

just my opinion…hugmamma.

“service with a smile”

Having both worked in service-oriented jobs for many years, with my husband still in the business, we agree that customer service is a “dying art.” Shopping on the Internet has made it more convenient for consumers to surf the global market for all their needs. An appealing product, savvy marketing and a credit card completes the transaction. There’s no need to interface with a flesh-and-blood person. After all, Google can answer any of your questions. And if you’ve got a hankering for “warm and fuzzy,” click on “smiley face” or download your choice of YouTube videos, to get your endorphins moving.  

Businesses grew by leaps and bounds when consumers had quantities of disposable income. Customer service was unnecessary, so it became a thing of the past. A few retailers, like some purveyors of travel and TV’s QVC, continued their traditional practice of being solicitous towards customers. But some, like E-Bay, Amazon.com, Craig’s List, department stores, supermarkets, drugstores, fast-food chains, medical practitioners and airlines, may have opted to minimize service in favor of quick turnover, with a “get ’em in, get ’em out,” attitude.

With the downturn in the economy, companies are scrambling to win back customers who have fewer dollars to spend. Customer service may be on the rise again. I hope so. It doesn’t cost businesses more to have employees smile, offer a warm greeting, listen with patience, offer options for resolution, and express appreciation for ongoing patronage. However, a company may want to invest in customer service training. Even employees with impeccable manners and the greatest intentions, will meet their match in irate persons. I know, I’ve sat on both sides of the desk.

In my mid-20’s I worked as a customer service agent for the Hawaii Medical Service Association in Honolulu. It represents Blue Cross/Blue Shield in the islands. I had extensive training in the technical aspects of HMSA’s policies so that I could answer policyholder questions. I did so in person, and on the phone. I enjoyed helping people, especially when I could clarify or demystify the finer points of their coverage. Receiving their thanks, and seeing their smiles when they turned to leave, was extremely gratifying. Of course, there were some who were disgruntled with what I had to say. And there were a few who insisted upon speaking with my supervisor, hoping his response would be different. Sometimes a review was scheduled, but often his answer confirmed mine. One particular encounter left me “shaking” in my muumuu (long, Hawaiian dress).

A gentleman from the island of Molokai had called, unhappy with a bill payment. I think it was a hospital claim, probably of a sizeable amount. I explained how the insurance carrier had determined his coverage. Unhappy with the information, I can only imagine how the man’s eyes bulged, his belly heaved, and how difficult it might have been to breathe, as he screamed profanities through the telephone. The tirade continued when I handed the call over to my boss. We were mistaken to think we’d heard the last of the policyholder. Not long after, the huge Hawaiian man  arrived at our offices, having made the flight specifically to address us in person. I gladly introduced him to my supervisor, who withdrew to the privacy of his office, with the angry islander in tow. I think someone from upper management eventually joined the conversation, but I don’t remember the outcome. Needless to say, the experience left me wary.

It’s been awhile since I’ve been the irate customer. However I’ve certainly done my fair share of yelling, I’m sorry to say. But it’s always been when I felt inconsequential, the company having already snagged my business. There was the time we’d refinanced with a bank at a low-interest rate. Because the appraiser hadn’t submitted his report on time, our rate was due to be increased. Not until I spoke with the President’s secretary, shedding tears of frustration, did she resolve the matter in our favor. 

When my 19-year-old daughter’s VISA bill showed an annual $85 fee for fraud protection on a credit limit of $500, I went ballistic! If she didn’t pay the fee, she’d be slapped with a finance charge. And if that kept up, she’d reach her allowed max in no time.  It was ludicrous that a billion dollar corporation would take advantage of a teenager. Unfamiliar with marketing schemes, my daughter thought VISA’s $2 rebate check was a reward for opening a bank account. Cashing the check actually signed her up for credit card protection, as indicated on the back, in fine print. My nonstop tirade failed to move the customer rep until I asked how she’d feel if her teenager had been scammed. The rep agreed to remove the fee, without requesting repayment of the rebate.

Purchasing a used sofa back table in Atlanta for $300, I agreed to pay the dealer another $265 to ship it to my home in Washington state. He shipped with a small, regional carrier because of its comparatively low-cost. When the merchandise arrived in Tacoma, my husband was told that the price had escalated to $600. In speaking with the seller, I learned that the price change had occurred within the shipper’s bureaucracy. The clerk with whom the transaction originated, wrote up the piece as a “sofa bed,” not a “sofa back table.” Sight unseen, the receiving office modified the price accordingly. When we asked that they open the crate to verify that it was a table, not a sofa bed, we were aghast when the amount shot up to $800+. No reason was given, but I surmised the decision was made that the piece was an antique. If I refused to pay the exorbitant price to retrieve my belonging, it could be sold locally for a hefty sum. After phone calls to 3 different offices, I was directed to the company’s corporate offices in Alabama. I wrote a letter describing, in great detail, the events leading up to my outrage. I addressed it to the President of the freight company, copying the President of its parent company, and express mailed both. It was sent on a Saturday, and I followed up with a call on Tuesday. Long story short, the Tacoma branch delivered the table to my husband for the originally quoted price of $261. That didn’t include door-to-door transportation, but it did in my case.

Who wants the grief that accompanies confrontation? Not me, that’s for certain. I’d just as soon turn my back, leaving it to those with hardier constitutions. But as I’ve indicated in my earlier posting, “put a ‘face’ on the ‘unknown,’ ” sometimes I’m integrity gone amuck! As with most people, there’s a “line” which when crossed, Mr. Jekyl steps in for Dr. Hyde. At that point, I become “warrior mom,” battling until my opponent is “face down,” eating dust from under my high-heeled stiletto, specifically removed from moth balls for the occasion. 

In my travel experiences from one end of the country to the other, southerners and Hawaiians exude genuine warmth and hospitality. The tellers at my mother-in-law’s bank welcome her with sunny smiles, and assist patiently with any questions she may raise. I find Southern wait staff gracious in their greetings, and their drawls hold my attention as they enticingly describe the “specials of the day.” What both ethnicities share is a slower paced lifestyle. That seems to translate to great customer service. Of course, as with anything else, there are exceptions to the rule. But I enjoy spending time in those locales, where “getting to know you” and “service with a smile” are more than fanciful sayings. They’re a way of life. 

for amazing customer service, huge hugs…hugmamma.